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A City Council Bill Could Reduce The Omnipresent Sidewalk Scaffolding In NYC


Long-standing scaffolding has pestered New Yorkers for years, congesting sidewalks, hurting local businesses, and attracting trash, pigeons and other undesirables. 

Many city officials say the scaffolding keeps New Yorkers safe and must remain until work’s concluded, but councilman Ben Kallos has presented a new bill that would require the scaffolding be taken down within six months after going up, the New York Times reports.

Scaffolding became required alongside regular building façade inspections in 1980, after Barnard College student Grace Gold was killed by a piece of falling terra cotta. As NYC has gone through a development boom, the number of scaffolds has increased significantly, with 6,667 permits issued last year.

Not included in the city law was a deadline for repairs and the scaffold disassembly. Fines can only be issued if work isn’t completed, and the city doesn’t have the authority to do work for a private building owner unless it's an emergency. Owners do have to obtain a permit for the scaffolds that needs to be renewed annually.

Kallos’ bill would allow the city to step in if work isn’t completed by deadline, excepting situations of bad weather, permit delays or potential danger. 

Naturally, the bill has faced resistance from the CRE industry, such as REBNY SVP Carl Hum, who called the proposal “ill-conceived.” Rent Stabilization Association director Frank Ricci noted that many owners don’t have the money to make repairs, and scaffolding is often cheaper and safer than repairs.

In a January review of all scaffolding in the city, Building Department enforcement deputy commissioner Timothy Hogan found that less than 2% of the 7,700 scaffolds could be taken down, with many remaining up simply because a building’s façade poses potential danger.

“Construction and repair is not an exact science,” Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman housing expert Sherwin Belkin says. “The City Council needs to be extremely careful in placing an artificial deadline upon the completion of work and removal of this safety device…causing a rush to completion of work, so that the scaffolding can be removed, potentially places public safety at risk.” [NYT]